The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has chosen to make the debate over its VNR "study" a personal one.
Rather than discuss the merits of the arguments I put forward in a recent Technique, the CMD on its Web site instead selectively critiqued my Op-Ed piece in the May 1 issue of Cable & Broadcasting.
The post deliberately mischaracterizes my contention that sponsored news content is almost always innocuous and frequently can be beneficial whether attributed or not. I can cite example after example of VNRs and SMTs I've produced in the past 20 years that offered important and even life-saving information. I can also say that my firm has never produced a VNR that contained lies.
The CMD made no effort to contact me as the prestigious, non-partisan Poynter Institute did. I explained to a Poynter faculty member that all producers of sponsored news agree newscasters should attribute it. But I also told him I believe that if it isn't attributed, in today's TV news/infotainment environment, there is no harm because there is no foul. Editorial safeguards are in place to prevent abuse in TV newsrooms just as there are in print newsrooms, which routinely use press releases without attribution.
Evidently, none of this interests the CMD because it seems to believe any PR by any corporation is deceptive, corrupt, and dishonest. This is ironic being as the CMD itself is just a sort of two-person PR shop with an anti-corporate agenda that uses the same publicity tactics it condemns others for using.
An example can be found on the Center for Consumer Freedom Web site where it's noted that the CMD's two directors, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, promoted their book Trust Us, We're Experts! with a slick press kit, citing favorable reviews from media experts. The packet also included a prewritten list of questions for reporters to ask. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel blew the whistle, noting that a "sheepish Stauber" offered [this] feeble excuse: "What you see is a true PR campaign around our book. This is how book publishing is done. I think it's bad. I hate it."
Then there's their other book, Mad Cow USA, which nearly a decade ago predicted an epidemic of the disease because of a massive government and industry cover-up. Stauber was widely quoted on the topic by major news organizations, which believed his claim that he was an expert even though he has no scientific or medical training. Talk about "fake news."
I don't point this out to discredit the CMD VNR study, but to show that the CMD is not so much an objective observer concerned about journalistic integrity as it is a small group of folks who don't like big corporations using the public airwaves. The CMD seems to think its special interests trump your special interests. That strikes me as decidedly undemocratic.
President and CEO
KEF Media Associates